Google Celebrates A Canadian Woman Today

Violet Pauline King Henry (October 18, 1929 – March 30, 1982) made history as Canada’s first black female lawyer, first black individual to earn a law degree in Alberta, and the first black person to be accepted into the Alberta Bar. 

Violet Pauline King Henry (1929 – 1982) | Wikipedia 
Violet Pauline King Henry (1929-1982) | Wikipedia 

Her accomplishments extended beyond law, as she achieved another milestone by becoming the first woman appointed to a senior management role within the American national YMCA.

Google celebrates her 94th birthday today with a special doodle accomplished by the following words.

Today’s Doodle, illustrated by guest artist Shanti Rittgers, celebrates the birth of Violet King Henry, Canada’s first Black female lawyer.  A trailblazer in the legal industry, and a leader in ​​her community, King continues to be a symbol of perseverance in the face of adversity. 

King was born on this day in 1929, in Calgary, Alberta. She was a well-rounded student who achieved good grades and participated in several extracurriculars. Her high school senior yearbook caption proudly stated her intentions to pursue a career in law. In 1950, she  attended the University of Alberta Faculty of Law. King excelled in her classes, taught piano lessons, and was vice president of a feminist group — the Blue Stocking Club and the Students’ Union. She earned an executive “A” gold ring for her many contributions to the university in 1952.

King graduated in 1953, becoming the first Black graduate of the University of Alberta Faculty of Law and the first Black Canadian in the province to earn a law degree. She articled (or interned) at a Calgary law firm, and worked on five high-profile criminal trials in her first year. King was admitted to the Alberta Bar in 1954, which added another “first” to her list — becoming the  first Black woman in Canada to practice law. 

She spent a few years in Alberta as a lawyer before moving to Ottawa, where she joined Canada’s federal Citizenship and Immigration department. In this role, King met with leaders of community organizations and helped new immigrants find work and settle in Canada. After seven years, she moved to the U.S. and worked as the Executive Director of the Newark, New Jersey YMCA’s Community Branch, where she helped Black applicants find employment for six years before moving to Chicago to work at the YMCA’s national headquarters. While in Chicago King eventually became the first woman of any race, and the first Black person of any gender, to hold an executive position in the U.S. National Council of YMCA’s Organizational Development Group (which functioned as the managing Board of the YMCAs).

In 1998, she was inducted into the YMCA Hall of Fame for her work promoting the rights of women and minority groups. The Government of Alberta named a plaza in Edmonton after her in 2021, and the newly established Violet King Henry Law School Award is given to an outstanding Black law student at the University of Alberta annually. Toronto Metropolitan University’s Law School also presents an annual award to a committed civil rights advocate student, and the Black Law Student Association of Canada now holds a “Women of Excellence in Law” luncheon in her honor at their annual national conference.

King once noted in a speech given soon after being called to the Canadian BAR that some people discouraged her from pursuing a law career. She said “People told me it wasn’t a good idea for a girl to be a lawyer, particularly a coloured girl… so I went ahead.” – Violet King, May 5, 1956. And in “going ahead”  she proved them wrong by breaking glass ceilings and inspiring women of colour everywhere to pursue their dreams, even when met with resistance. 

Happy birthday, Violet King Henry, thank you for breaking down gender and racial barriers throughout your impressive career!

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